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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Ecco’

Here we have a very versatile word that you'll hear all the time in Italy.

Italian word of the day: 'Ecco'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Ecco is another of those Italian words that just don't quite translate into English.

Roughly, it means “here” or “there”.

In English we pepper our speech with little phrases like “here we go” “here you are” and “there you have it”, and Italians do the same.

– Eccoci, finalmente siamo arrivati

– Here we are, we've finally arrived!

READ ALSO: The top ten Italian words that just don't translate into English

But of course, it's not really that simple. Even in Italian, ecco is in a category all of its own. Literally.

Avverbi presentativi, or presentation adverbs, is the name of a type of adverb in Italian used to present, indicate, show, or announce something. The one and only adverb of this type still used in modern-day Italian is ecco.

You can find it used alone, but often  it's attached to a pronoun: mi, ti, ci, vi, lo, la, li, le, ne

– Eccovi qui, cari amici!

– there you are, dear friends!

Eccoli qua!

– here you have them!

These ecco phrases are often used to announce the arrival or appearance of someone or something, particularly if it's long-awaited.

– ecco il treno

– here's the train

 

It has more subtle meanings too. For example, this dictionary says it can “lend a nuance of irony to a situation.”

But most often I hear it used as an exclamation, to express satisfaction or surprise.

In that case, it translates to something like “look at that” or maybe even “behold!”

– Ecco! Ho dimenticato di nuovo le chiavi!

– Look at that. I forgot the keys again!

 

A bit like quindi or allora, it can also be used when you're not sure what else to say.

– Ecco…allora

– Look… well then

An ecco can also be deployed halfway through a sentence when you want to correct or change what you were saying.

– mi è sembrato… ecco… ho saputo che…

– I felt… no… I knew that…

You can use it to start or end a discussion or explanation

– Ecco, le cose sono andate così

– Here, things went like this

– ecco tutto

– that's all

And ecco fatto (that’s it) means something is finished.

– Ecco fatto l'articolo!

– That's the article finished!

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Farla franca’

You won't get away with neglecting to learn this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Farla franca'

If you like Italian detective or murder mystery novels, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter the phrase farla franca: to get away with something.

Con Poirot alle calcagna, l’assassino non riuscirà mai a farla franca.
With Poirot on the scent, the killer will never get away with it.

Pensavi davvero di potermi derubare e farla franca?
You really thought you could steal from me and get away with it?

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According to the Treccani dictionary, the expression comes from the bureaucratic use of the adjective franco to mean ‘free’, describing either people that are exempt from carrying out their duties (like off-duty naval officers) or goods that are exempt from tariffs and duties.

One of the first recorded uses of farla franca as a phrase comes from the early 14th century.

The Florentine historian Giovanni Villani wrote that in June 1322, the city of Florence celebrated the Feast of San Giovanni with a big fair, ‘la quale feciono franca‘ for non-citizens – in other words, foreign merchants who came didn’t have to pay the usual taxes.

By the mid-1800s, the expression to mean escaping from some illicit act or risky endeavour without having to pay a penalty. In English (if you were being old-fashioned) you might talk in the same way about someone ‘getting off scot free’.

The la in farla franca is the part of the phrase that stands in for the ‘it’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to fare but can go somewhere else, as long as it’s there.

Non possiamo permettere che la faccia franca.
We can’t let him get away with this.

Pensa di poterla fare franca.
She thinks she can get away with it.

With this phrase now in your repertoire, there’s no telling what you’ll get away with.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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